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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Trevyn and Erica Smith are hoping experimental stem-cell treatment in China can restore sight of their daughter Ryan Rae.

The two-time Big Sky rushing champion has never been one to shy away from a challenge.

He's brash, head-strong and as confident as anyone you'll find on a football field.

Put his infant daughter in his arms, though, and Trevyn Smith becomes a much different person. He's a doting father who talks about how having a child has changed him and made him grow up after being a self-described party animal at college.

It's not surprising, then, to learn Smith will stop at nothing to fight for his daughter's sight.

"I'll do whatever it takes," Smith said. "It doesn't matter to me. I'm willing to do it for her."

Ryan Rae Smith, less than a year old, was born with a rare condition that affected the development of her optic nerves. Her vision is limited to only blurs seen when within a few inches of her face.

Local doctors the Smith family have seen tell them there is little that can be done.

Still, Smith and his wife, Erica, searched for options. Not wanting to accept that there was nothing available to help prevent their newborn from losing all eyesight, they are planning a trip to China for what might best be described as experimental stem-cell treatment to help Ryan Rae see.

In typical Trevyn Smith fashion, he knows an answer is out there — somewhere — and he's willing to hit the problem head on as if it were a linebacker.

"I'm not worried about it in the least bit," Trevyn said. "It's worth whatever risks there might be."

Those risks involve using a medical procedure not approved in the United States. One that despite doubts expressed by many in the medical community locally, Smith says is "two steps ahead" of what is available here.

"All the research I've done tells me they are performing miracles over there," he said. "I don't know how they can judge something they can't even step into. I don't see what's wrong with trying."

And so try is what the Smiths will do.

With a price tag exceeding $60,000 and Smith restricted by NCAA rules regarding when he is allowed to even have a job, the WSU Wildcat junior and former Springville High standout is getting help from family and friends. Fundraising golf tournaments are being held with the entry fee set at $500 per four-person team. Harry O's in Park City is hosting a fundraiser. An anonymous person has pledged to match funds raised.

Slowly but surely — kind of like the yardage Smith accumulates in football games — the money to pay for the trip and the medical treatment is being raised.

Erica Smith, five months pregnant with their second child, has her passport prepared and is waiting for the call. Because Trevyn is working and will soon begin school and football practice again, he is not expecting to make the trip to China with his wife.

"Whenever they call you," Erica Smith said, "you drop everything and go."

The treatment reportedly spurs the growth of the optic nerves that never fully developed while Ryan Rae was in the womb.

The are no guarantees, obviously, but that is not deterring the Smiths.

"To me, this was our only option left after they told us nothing else could be done," Erica said. "I wanted to look into it ... As long as there's a chance we can help her, it's worth it."

Little Ryan's condition was discovered when Erica was seven months pregnant. When ultra sound tests revealed something was wrong, more tests were taken.

Then more tests and more tests.

Finally, Trevyn said, doctors told him it was hopeless. Ryan Rae Smith would be blind for life.

"I think they're wrong," he said. "I think they don't want to consider anything they can't do themselves. So they just close the door on that."

The Smiths say they have talked with the parents of other patients who have made the trip to China for the treatment. They've scoured the Internet looking for clues and confirmation that what they are doing is safe and dependable.

"As far as we can tell," Trevyn said, "they haven't had anything go wrong. We've heard from people that have had success and say they would do it again, not matter how much it costs."

While the $60,000 expense is daunting — "That's like sending your kid to college for four years," Trevyn said. "That's a scary number for someone like me" — the young family will scrape by and make it work.

"It's going to be rough," Erica Smith said. "But as long as we can help her, it's worth it."

And much the way Trevyn carries a football with his legs never stopping until the whistle blows, this is a fight he'll carry on — even if one whistle has already been blown.

"They (local doctors) told me it wouldn't work," he said. "That it won't be successful. But they're doing some miraculous things. And I'm not giving up."

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